You are here: Past Lectures > Elizabeth F. Colson > Published Works >1973 Review of The Social Consequences of Resettlement, American Anthropologist
The Social Consequences of Resettlement: The Impact of the Kariba Resettlement upon the Gwembe Tonga. ELIZABETH COLSON. Kariba Studies, 4. Manchester: Manchester University Press (published for the Institute for African Studies, University of Zambia; distributed in U.S. by Humanities Press, New York), 1971. xi + 277 pp., 6 plates, tables, bibliography, index..
Reviewed by W. ARENS SUNY, Stony Brook
Studies of the resettlement of native populations in the interest of technological development projects have provided anthropology with the unsought for opportunity to display its expertise in analyzing the social problems involved as well as express its concern for the human condition. Such studies, though, have not been among the most stimulating or important in the history of anthropological literature. This volume by Professor Colson, however, illustrates that in the hands of a gifted writer and superb craftsman, with an overall grasp of the situation, such reports can be of interest and value both descriptively and theoretically. This particular one also clearly portrays the human price extracted as the consequence of forced relocation.
Colson's (1960) previous research on the Gwembe Tonga of Central Africa provides the background for the present work, which is concerned primarily with the years 1957 to 1963 just prior to and after the resettlement of the population in a highland area not too distant from their former homes. The relocation was necessitated by the decision of the then Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia to build a dam on the Zambezi at the Kariba Gorge which would flood the Gwembe be Valley.
The initial chapters introduce the Gwembe Tonga, the scope of the study and most interestingly the reaction at the local level to the decision which expectedly was met with little enthusiasm. The residents were less concerned with the benefits which would accrue to the European dominated industrial sector of the economy than with the practical considerations and consequences of the move on their own lives. Passive resistance to the evacuation order in one district led to violence which resulted in eight dead and thirty-two wounded before eventual compliance. As Colson puts it: "It was in this demoralized condition that the Gwembe villagers found themselves in new regions where they would have to pioneer the land and start afresh" (p. 42).
The bulk of the study follows five selected communities and details the adjustment of the villagers and Tonga institutions to the new setting. The observed consequences did not allow for significant generalizations to be made for the societal level as a result of the experience. During the period just after the move some institutional arrangements or beliefs were strengthened, while others weakened and some remained apparently unaffected.
Colson points out that kinship ideology and ties were rein. forced as people sought security in tradi- tional relationships to overcome the initial difficulties. As a result, conflicts were kept to a minimum while old ones were forgotten. Even though it was a period of intense anxiety, Colson indicates that sorcery accusations among kin and neighbors diminished. However, after a few years in the new area, the old patterns re-emerged as relatives quarreled and split up. Accusations of sorcery also reached their pre-settlement level as an indication of the return to normalcy.
The cult of the "shades," the spiritual essence of dead ancestors, was not affected as a result of relocation. Colson explains that the belief is closely associated with the traditional kinship system which survived the move intact. In addition, the possession of a relationship to a shade is an individual matter and the idea that ancestral spirits move about as freely as men meant that the Tonga could not foresee any problem in maintaining this tie. The Cult of the Earth, on the other hand, assumed less significance just after the move, since the shrines and the corresponding beliefs were associated with particular areas of their former homes. As the settlers adjusted to the new territory and experienced first agricultural success and then failure, the Earth Cult became significant again as the people attempted to come to terms with the spirits of the new land.
The family homestead, which the Tonga firmly believed would withstand the relocation, was seriously affected by unexpected strains directly resulting from the move. The father-son relationship was particularly prone to conflict. Fathers found it necessary to call upon the extensive labor of their sons for the task of clearing new fields and establishing new homesteads. Although the young adult males bore the brunt of the heavy work, the father as head of the household received the financial compensation from the government, and many used it in their own interests, to the dissatisfaction of their sons. This problem was also smoothed over with the passage of time and the relationship took on its former quality.
Certain minor structural changes in Gwembe Tonga social and cultural life did take place, but these were due as much to other external changes, such as the coming of Independence and greater social and economic opportunities, as to resettlement itself. In general, the study shows that social systems manage to adjust with a modicum of stress even to imposed radical change. However, societies are abstractions which can effortlessly maintain themselves through periods of crisis, but human beings are not theoretical constructs and, as such, experience concrete suffering. Colson is too much of a humanist to overlook this, and at various points in her discussion objectively points out how adjusting to the new location resulted in financial losses and took its toll in sickness and death as the result of experimenting with strange vegetation. She also effectively conveys the emotional anxiety felt by the settlers. I do not think that the author would want this factor to be overlooked in favor of the more theoretical discussion. She makes this point clearly by choosing to write as her first sentence of the book: "Massive technological development hurts" (p. 1).
This book is best read in conjunction with Colson's (1960) earlier study of the Gwembe Tonga prior to resettlement. Taken together, they are a significant contribution to the ethnography of the area, the study of social change and social planning. Hopefully, those involved with the latter will have the opportunity to become familiar with Colson's work.
Colson, Elizabeth. (1960) The Social Organization of the Gwembe Tonga. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
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